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Governor signed bill for disaster days for school impacted by December tornado outbreak

Governor Andy Beshear

Gov. Andy Beshear signed House Bill 397 into law Thursday, excusing up to 15 days of attendance for schools impacted by the December tornado outbreak.

“I am pleased to sign House Bill 397 which provides our Western Kentucky schools, students and educators extra excused days that were missed due to the tornadoes and storms,” Beshear said in a press release.

The bill waives missed days between Dec. 13, 2021 and Jan. 14, 2022. The days will be applied on a district-wide basis, with a per-case basis from the Commissioner of Education on closures that were not district-wide.

HB 397 was sponsored by 11 representatives – many of which represent areas impacted by the storms. The bill received bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature, passing unanimously in the House in February and in the Senate in March.

Graves County Schools is one of the districts that canceled school for the first week after the tornado. Superintendent Matthew Madding said his school district was fortunate enough to return to school as scheduled in January.

“Whenever you miss days, you have to come back and make those days up, so for us, the way that our school calendars is built, those days would have been made up on the back end of the calendar, so our summer break would have been shortened just a little bit,” Madding said. “What this bill did for us, number one is, of course, it forgave the number of instructional days that our students needed, so that the days missed due to the tornado could be directly forgiven, so that's big.”

The bill states that employees who did not complete their contracted work on the waived days will be considered to have completed the days’ work. It also stipulates those days won’t be counted against the system’s nontraditional instruction attendance days.

“As a community is recovering and trying to move forward, having that time where they can actually do that and be with their family and work on the things that they need to work on outside of school and having as much time to be able to do that as possible is vital, is important,” Madding said. “This bill, it does help allow for that by reducing that requirement to continue on into your school days on into the summer. By taking that away our kids and our families will now have a little bit more opportunity to continue to work on that recovery process.”

Madding said he and the Mayfield Independent Schools Superintendent Joe Henderson visited Frankfort during this process to speak with their local representative about the bill.

Graves County Schools are scheduled to end instruction this semester as originally planned on May 12.

Maddings says this bill doesn’t solve all the problems school districts are facing – including how enrollment changes could change funding – but it’s a good start.

“There's still a lot of unknowns as we move forward,” Madding said.

Lily Burris is a tornado recovery reporter for WKMS, Murray State's NPR Station. Her nine month reporting project is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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